This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge was particularly fun for me, but I am not going to lie - it wasn't a surprise to me like it was for the other members of the Daring Kitchen.
May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.
You see, Ruth is my sister. And we chatted about this challenge a lot in the weeks leading up to it's announcement on the forum, planning, proofreading, photographing, video-ing different braiding techniques... but there was one thing, in all of that planning and helping out, that I didn't do.
Bake any challah.
I don't know why.
So once the challenge "officially" started, I knew I had to get down to work!
Ruth provided us with several different recipes in her challenge write-up, but the real challenge was not the recipe, rather, the creation of a beautifully braided or shaped loaf of enriched (with eggs, sometimes butter or margarine, too) bread.
For my first attempt, I wanted to try something special. So I used this recipe for a sweet challah dough, and tried my hand at making a cinnamon swirl four strand braided challah.
The recipe makes enough dough for two loaves, so, working with half of my dough, I made four (approximately) equal portions.
Meanwhile, little miss mixed up a filling of cinnamon and brown sugar for me.
I then rolled each of the four sections into a snake, then flattened each snake out to a few inches wide.
Each of these long, flat snakes was then spread with one tablespoon of softened butter and a quarter of my brown sugar-cinnamon filling.
Now, if I'd been thinking things out better, I would have made each flat strand even wider, and rolled -them up cinnamon-bun style. But I didn't think it through that well. What I did was enclose this filling into the strand, making, basically, a long, filled strand of dough. Not a bad idea, but a little messy, and, as you will see in a bit, it didn't yield me the swirls I was hoping for.
Anyway, a few minutes and a bunch of mess later, I had my four cinnamon-sugar filled strands.
Which I then proceeded to braid together...
...to create a very long, lopsidedly braided loaf of challah.
Side note here - I took many, many photographs and videos of Ruth creating many different braided loaves. I watched closely as she braided and unbraided countless strands into countless loaves. I listened as she narrated. I paid pretty close attention. She made it look so easy.
It wasn't easy.
Fun? Yes. Easy? Not in the slightest.
With the other half of my dough, I tried creating a four-strand round loaf (again, as I'd watched Ruth do).
Not bad (for a first attempt), but it wound up lopsided!!
But the baked up beautifully.
Don't get me wrong - they're still a bit lopsided and misshapen, but they smelled delicious and I was pleased with them.
And the cinnamon swirl one was fun to cut into.
Yeah, we ate half of that one within the first afternoon. And it was a BIG loaf. It was absolutely delicious.
The round one was great too - and with this one you can really see how light and airy the bread was, even as an enriched and heavy sounding dough.
Now, I knew I'd want to try again. Not only to keep practicing (as I obviously need to...), but to try at least one of the recipes that Ruth had provided. So, one night when I was contemplating making dinner rolls, I decided to instead use Ruth's "easy" recipe to make challah rolls!
Little miss was very hands on this time.
She loved rolling out the snakes. She actually loved pretending she was Aunt Ruth rolling out the snakes, and tried narrating her process, much as she'd heard her aunt do while we were filming before...
These snakes were knotted into rolls, and, I dare-say, I didn't do too badly this time!
I have a lot more work ahead of me before I will be able to create loaves as beautiful as many of the others created in the Daring Kitchen this month (check them out here - I promise it'll be worth your time!!), but I am still pretty happy with the results we saw (and ate!!) this month.
Ruth, thanks for including me in the preparation for this month's challenge, and for choosing something so fun and beautiful and versatile!!
And stay tuned - I made a delicious dinner using that round loaf above, and I'll share it with you in the next post!
(from Challah Recipes)
1 scant tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want your bread)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs + 1 large egg (for egg wash)
5 cups bread flour
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
approximately 1 tablespoon salt
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional - I omitted)
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and the oil and mix well with a whisk or a wooden spoon. Beat in 4 of the eggs, one at a time; then gradually stir in the bread flour, 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, and the salt. When you have a dough that holds together, it is ready for kneading.
To knead the dough by hand, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead well, using the heels of your hands to press the dough away and your fingers to bring it back. Continue, turning the dough, for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding the remaining 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour or as needed.
To knead by machine in an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, knead for 5 minutes on medium speed, or until smooth. You can also process half the dough at a time in a food processor fitted with the steel blade; process for about 1 minute.
After kneading, place all the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. You can also put the dough in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees for a few minutes and then turned off.
When the dough is almost doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and punch it down -- the rougher you are, the more the dough likes it. Return it to the bowl, cover it again and let it rise in a warm place for 30 minutes more. Or, if you have to go out, let the dough rise slowly in the refrigerator several hours or overnight and bring it to room temperature when ready to continue.
This makes enough dough for two loaves. When you are ready to shape your loaves, divide the dough in half, then each half into as many pieces as you need strands for braiding.
Once the loaves have been braided, let them rise another hour, uncovered. Fifteen minutes before putting the loaves in the oven, beat the remaining egg and brush it gently over them. Five minutes later, lightly brush them again. Then sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds (if desired) and let dry a few minutes.
While the dough is rising this last time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the loaves on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more. Turn off the oven and leave the loaves in 5 minutes longer to get a dark-golden crust. Remove and cool on a rack.
(from templedavid.org, as provided by Ruth in the challenge)
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup warm water
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) package rapid rise yeast (I used active dry)
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
Measure flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer) combine water and yeast, allow to sit 5 minutes until foamy.
Add 1 ½ cups of the flour mixture to the water and yeast mixture, beat until well combined. Cover with a dish towel, let stand 30 min.
Add two eggs to the dough, beat again.
By hand or with your dough hook knead in the remaining flour mixture (as needed - I didn't need all of it). Knead approximately 10 minutes.
Transfer to oiled bowl, cover, let rise one hour.
Punch down dough, knead approximately 3 minutes.
Divide dough in two. Shape each half as desired (3, 4, or 6 strand braid).
Place loaves on parchment covered or greased cookie sheets, cover with a towel, allow to rise one hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Brush loaves with egg wash.
Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees, bake until golden crust forms (about 25-30 minutes).
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.